OLYMPIC silver medallist PV Sindhu showed her mettle by guiding Chennai Smashers to a superb title win in the Premier Badminton League, which showcased new sporting heroes and rivalries in a highly-successful second season.
Right from her silver-winning feat at Rio, Sindhu has been simply unstoppable and the Indian continued to be an indomitable force in the PBL.
The Indian lost only to Carolina Marin on the opening day but maintained a clean slate after that with a scintillating straight game win over compatriot and Awadhe Warriors’ Saina Nehwal in a crucial and much-anticipated encounter of the semi-finals.
Sindhu cleared every hurdle and ensured that Chennai had the last laugh as she defeated Mumbai Rocket’s Sung Ji Hyun twice in the tournament, including the all-important final clash which went down to the wires at the Siri Fort Complex.
“We are very happy that we could win. All the matches were tough specially in this 11-point system. It was a good tournament for me, I could win most of my matches. It was really important because it’s the starting of the year and it gives me a lot of confidence,” Sindhu said.
The innovative 11-point scoring system made this edition a shorter and snappier affair and produced some stunning performances from Indian shuttlers such as HS Prannoy, Ajay Jayaram and the unheralded doubles specialist Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who mesmerised the fans. Prannoy was in red-hot form as he stayed unbeaten after notching up seven wins in as many contests against opponents which included the likes of Delhi Acers’ Son Wan Ho, Awadhe Warriors’ W Ki Vincent Wong.
“I wanted to change my attitude on court. Here I played with lot of aggression and I think it will help me in the upcoming season,” Prannoy said.
His team-mate Ajay Jayaram too was in decent form as he spoilt the Trump matches of Denmark’s World No. 2 Jan O Jorgensen and World No. 3 Viktor Axelsen.
Kidambi Srikanth also did well, winning four of the five matches that he played, beating the likes of Rajiv Ouseph, Tommy Sugiarto, Jorgensen and Viktor.
Expectations were also high when Olympic champion Marin was bought by Hyderabad Hunters for a whopping sum of 61 lakhs and the Spaniard did well to guide her team to the semi-finals. She notched up four wins from six single matches, losing twice to Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun.
The former World and All England Champion dished out her aggressive brand of badminton to roll over Indian duo of P V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, besides beating Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol and Ashwini Ponnappa, who showed a lot of gumption as she pulled off one game after playing singles for the first time in many years.
However, Marin twice failed to get across Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun, who came into the tournament after winning a silver at the season-ending Dubai Super Series Finals.
Saina, who has been struggling with her fitness post her knee surgery which crushed her Olympic dream, showed signs of coming back to her best as she defeated Jindapol, Sung Ji and Cheung. But she lost to Marin in the league stage before succumbing to compatriot Sindhu in the semis.
Unheralded Satwiksairaj’s rise was another positive that came out of the tournament as the 16-year-old from Andhra Pradesh showed that he has the mettle to take on the might of more experienced pairs.
Satwik, along with his partner Hoi Wah Chau, dished out some splendid performances against Mumbai Rocket’s Yong Dae Lee and Nadiezda Zieba and Delhi Acers’ Jwala Gutta and Vladimir Ivanov.
Among teams, Delhi Acers disappointed the most as the defending champions ended at the bottom of the points table with just eight points.
Delhi were hurt badly by the lack of depth in women’s singles as Jindapol and Tanvi Lad were no match for their illustrious opponents. Jwala and Vladimir Ivanov’s lack of form meant they lost three of their mixed doubles matches.
Jorgensen, who was the third costliest buy for Rs. 59 lakhs, and Korea’s Son Wan Ho also could not live up to the expectations.
Delhi were also affected by the 11-point scoring format and travelling schedule which affected the performances of their top shuttlers.
“From a player’s perspective, when you shorten the game, the technique of the player goes for a toss. Personally, I am not really up for the 11-point scoring system as the quality of badminton will surely go down,” said Jwala Gutta, who played for Delhi Acers.
Delhi’s star shuttler Jorgensen said: “I think we had a tough schedule as we were travelling after every tie and it affects performance sometimes.
Prasad Mangipudi, director of Sportzlive, who holds the exclusive license rights for the League in India, said planning the travelling schedule of the teams was a challenge in such a small window.
“Our biggest hurdle is the window. It is a tough challenge to travel to five cities with six teams and also it is New years time, Christmas time so many player from countries such as China, Korea and Japan are not willing to play at this time. But our ambition is to make this league so rich in 4-5 years time that no player can afford to miss it,” he said.
“So we are planning to have more teams. Already 4-5 cities are interested. Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Kolkata and Pune are interested. So we have will sit down and evaluate before taking a call.”